Mary Peltola, a Democrat and the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, has won her bid to retain the state’s sole seat in the House of Representatives.
Peltola made history when she won a special election this summer to replace the Republican Don Young after his death. She is also the first woman to represent Alaska in Congress since it became a state in 1959.
Peltola served out the remainder of Young’s term before facing a rematch with her previous challengers, Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich III and Libertarian Chris Bye, for a full congressional term.
On Wednesday, she once again prevailed in Alaska’s newly adopted ranked-choice voting system.
“Now, I’m a real congressman for all Alaska,” she said. Young often referred to himself that way. Peltola has described his legacy as one of bipartisanship and building support for Alaskan interests in Congress.
Campaigning as a moderate who is willing to work with candidates from both parties, Peltola ran on a “pro-fish, pro-family, pro-freedom” platform. After taking office, she hired Young’s former chief of staff – a lifelong Republican – to run her office.
“I want to work with everyone and anyone who is a reasonable person to find solutions to Alaska’s challenges,” she told the Guardian in August.
Having been sworn into Congress just two months ago, Peltola has maintained a “pro-fish, pro-family and pro-freedom” platform – vowing to address the climate emergency and other threats to Alaskan fisheries and protect access to abortions. Though she retains the support of environmental and Native groups across her home state, she has raised controversy among supporters by backing one of the largest proposed onshore oil and gas developments in the US, on Alaska’s North Slope.
She has said she seeks to balance the economic realities in Alaska – which is enmeshed with the oil and gas industry – with the need to address the climate crisis, including in Alaska’s vulnerable Arctic regions.
Her second victory speaks not only to her broad appeal across party lines, but also to Alaskans’ skepticism of Palin – whose popularity in her home state plummeted after she stepped down from her post as governor following an unsuccessful vice-presidential bid. Known for her relentless affability, Peltola ran a largely positive campaign and had attracted praise from Alaska Republicans, including Palin.
The two overlapped in Alaska’s capitol, when Peltola was a legislator and Palin the governor. “Doggone it, I never have anything, like, to gripe about,” Palin said of Peltola at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention in late October.
Palin and Begich III, the two Republicans, were often at odds throughout the campaign season, even as they encouraged each other’s supporters to rank them as a second choice, so as to guarantee a Republican in Congress.
In Alaska’s unique ranked-choice voting systems, voters were asked to choose among candidates in their order of preference. If one candidate wins more than 50% of first-choice votes, they win. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their votes are reallocated among the remaining candidates until someone wins.
Peltola won the election with 54.94% of the vote in the third round of ballot-counting, after two other candidates, Begich III and Bye, were eliminated and their supporters’ votes were reallocated to the remaining candidates, according to the Alaska Division of Elections. Peltola had won nearly 49% of the vote in the first round, putting her close to victory from the beginning. Even though only about 10% of the eliminated Republican candidates’s supporters ranked Peltola as their next choice, rather than Palin, it was enough to secure her win.